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Risk v reward when choosing event destinations

The recent terrorist attacks in Brussels, Istanbul and Paris have prompted lots of industry media comment about ‘safe destinations’ to take corporate meetings and conference delegates. It makes interesting media copy. But it’s closing the stable door after the horse has bolted.

Professionals in the business sign up to destinations many months in advance and for member associations it could even be years. So, last week’s atrocity is neither here nor there. The key issue for most organisers is whether to pull out of a high risk destination for an imminent event or reassess a destination due to take place in say two years’ time as a result of heightened security issues now.

Arguably, the safest place to travel to is the destination with the most recent problem. Security will be state-of-the-art, the intelligence about ‘undesirables’ will be excellent and those who planned to perpetrate such deeds will be long gone. It may mean lots of extra work for border control and the indigenous police services. But in terms of the safety and security of delegates, it doesn’t get much safer.

Looking further ahead
The more difficult assessment to make though is whether such places should be side-lined for an event taking place in, say, two years’ time?

The first evidence most organisers look for is what their local, national government says. Not everyone has access to such information but most organisers do. But be careful what you are reading. The Foreign Office in the UK or the State Department, for example in the USA, exist for a particular reason. Their role is to promote their national interest. This includes countries that they currently trade with or would like to trade with. It comes as no surprise then that even some countries with a dubious history of harbouring terrorists are not named in official government documents for fear that doing so may harm their export opportunities.

The next place to look is associations of business groups. They will be quick to identify good places to do business in and the risks involved. For most businesses there is a fine line between risk and reward otherwise there would be no profit opportunity.

But I would guess most corporate organisers have a duty of care to their delegates not to endanger their lives. This leads to certain, business choices when it comes to choosing likely event destinations.

Most destination decisions need to take into account the perceived rather than the real risks. After all, you want people to attend your event. So destinations that provoke immediate concerns such as Eritrea or some parts of Pakistan are unlikely to produce positive applications, even if you can prove with facts that the perceptions are wrong.

But it’s not always about politics.
Some destinations are simply hard to get to for many delegates. With a global delegate base you may think that it does not matter where you choose for the destination. But logistics always prevail. Small islands are often tricky as flights are less frequent than to mainland cities. If the national air carriers of most delegates do not fly direct to the chosen destination then you may struggle to get people to attend.

Choosing a destination which requires one, two or three plane changes is not going to help attendance levels. There will also be a significant drop-out rate towards the end of the event as delegates worry about getting home in good time.

Weather is also a factor. If attending an event is of marginal business interest the weather at the time of the event may be a deciding factor. The hurricane season, sub-zero temperatures, high summer, monsoons all play a part in whether delegates will want to brave the risk of travel-disrupted weather against the reward of doing some worthwhile business.

Peer-group pressure
In these days of being in a connected world we should never under-estimate the power of peer pressure. ‘I’ll go, if you’re going’ is not an unusual response to a party invitation anywhere in the world. If you apply that principle to corporate and trade events the power of social media comes into play. To get higher attendance you have to run a pre-event campaign that makes it difficult for potential delegates to say no. ‘Missing out’ is a powerful motivator for action, whether you are selling heating systems or high-end fashion.

Making your choice
So, where to choose? Of course, you should take account of perennial terrorist issues in certain destinations. But one bomb, however regrettable that may be, does not mean we should never go there again.

Would you never take delegates to London, Paris or Brussels again because once there was a bomb there? That would be like never going on an airplane because once one crashed.



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